By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal
Whitehall High School has a new varsity football coach.
Tony Sigmon is replacing outgoing Viking head coach Cliff Sandee, who along with his brother, Brent, co-coached the team during the 2012 season.
Cliff Sandee was the team’s lone head coach in 2011.
Sigmon, who was a JV coach at Whitehall last season, currently teaches art at Whitehall Middle School.
“My wife and I just love this community,” said Sigmon, who hails from DeWitt. “Everyone has been so supportive.”
A linebacker/offensive lineman at DeWitt through the 2001 season, Sigmon went on to play four years at Alma College as a defensive lineman from 2002-05, and stayed on as an assistant coach for the Scotties. Eventually following a coaching colleague down south, Sigmon has coached at South Lee County High School in Fort Myers , Fl the past five years, helping the brand-new program through some early growing pains.
“Instead getting down (the scheme),” explained Sigmon, “we were so new that we were focused more on getting the kids’ pads on the right way. Everything was brand new to them.”
Sigmon and his wife, Amy, who is originally from Cadillac, applied on a whim for two open positions in the Whitehall School District.
“We said, ‘You know what, let’s give it a shot,” said Sigmon. “We didn’t think we had a chance.”
Both of them were hired, Amy as a Kindergarten teacher, and the two moved back to Michigan in early September.
Although he got a late start to the season, Sigmon coached the Viking JV’s linebackers and quarterbacks, while also helping the varsity team with film work and scouting. Though it was a quick introduction, Sigmon was immediately impressed with the high level of play in the West Michigan Conference.
“You go to all of these stadiums and you see all the state-title banners,” he said. “And it wasn’t just one year or one school but several years at several schools. It was impressive.”
Finishing the 2011 season with a 6-4 record and a playoff berth, expectations were high for Whitehall heading into the 2012, with many prognosticators predicting the Vikings as the darkhorse pick in the West Michigan Conference.
Instead, the Vikings dropped their final two games, to Oakridge and Grant, and failed to reach the playoff with a 4-5 record.
Sigmon isn’t promising an instant turn around, emphasizing instead on creating a long-lasting program. That said, Sigmon has seen first hand how quickly struggling teams can turn around things. He believes a focus on off-season weightlifting and camps, as well as his plan to remain as head of school’s football program for many years, are key ingredients in Whitehall’s turnaround.
“I want to bring consistency to the program,” said Sigmon. “Be it at head coach or in the weight room, that’s what this football needs. Regardless of our record last year, I have seen teams improve very fast by committing to a weight program and setting goals in the off season.”
The Vikings offense, said Sigmon, will feature a new-look option-style game plan.
“I feel the option gives us the best chance to be successful,” he said. “The option will be our foundation.”
The most important thing for Sigmon, though, will be helping the kids realize that football is fun.
“Football helped make me the person I am today,” said Sigmon, “and I look back to my playing days as some of the best times of my life. That’s what I want to get across to the kids. I want my players to look back at our time together as a special time in their lives.”